Exploring the science and folk history of bears
October 11, 2007
In a year when bears have been on the minds of everyone in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, a new work of nonfiction, “Bears,” is a fun and poignant read.Author Bernd Brunner explores the complex relationship between humans and bears across the centuries and around the world.The antique illustrations alone are titillating, but “Bears” is peppered with little-known facts and interesting tales. Brunner explains many of our common misconceptions about the elusive animal.What exactly do bears do in winter? What are the origins of the “bear hug” and the “Teddy bear”? Are bears really attracted to menstrual blood, as many believe?”Bears” answers these and other questions.Whether feared and reviled or worshipped and anthropomorphized, bears have historically drawn extreme reactions.Brunner draws from a deep well of science and folk histories about everything from the archaeological record of prehistoric cave bears to man’s efforts to domesticate, kill, eat and train bears.Comparing Native American groups, who would not hunt bears because they believed bears to be a hairy relative of man, to the Ainu people of northern Japan, who believed they were descended from bears (and Ainu women were rumored to suckle bear cubs), Brunner weaves a cross-cultural tapestry.”Bears” introduces readers to Grizzly Adams, an eccentric 19th-century American loner who lived with bears, and Timothy (Treadwell) Dexter, subject of the 2006 film “Grizzly Man,” who lived among Alaskan Grizzlies until he and his girlfriend were mauled to death.”People, especially in highly developed and densely populated areas, may react to bears in their midst with an excessive, irrational fear that amounts to veritable ‘bearanoia,'” Brunner writes.Perhaps the German author has been to Aspen.”Bears” ends with a chapter on the state of bears today, from bears repopulating overdeveloped areas of the U.S. East Coast, to controversial bear reintroduction programs in Europe.An easy read and an even easier skim of good art and quirky stories, “Bears” is the kind of book you can flip open to the chapter that tickles your fancy and enjoy.